Phineas inquires, “”Bout done, Andrew?”
“Yep…I won’t be needing any more water, fellas.”
Phineas grins at Julian and they go whooping off around the corner, clearly pleased that the hard job of hauling water is finished. Andrew laughs, “And here they were looking worn out…”
Rodger grins back, “Tryin’ to get out of water-hauling, I guess. It wasn’t that long ago that I was trying to shirk that job.”
“Well, at least you don’t mind helping with the laundry now…unlike Bartholomew who can’t stand to be seen near a washtub!”
The brothers laugh and continue with their work, finding pleasure in each other's company.
Andrew looks up, wiping his sweaty face, and his gaze fixes on something--a rider is coming up the hill slowly, looking warily about.
The man is dressed almost foppishly with silver on his hat and a fancy gun rig.
Andrew and Rodger watch him, curiously. As he rides into the yard, Andrew steps forward and addresses him.
“Something I can do for you, sir?”
The stranger replies rather grimly, “I’m lookin’ for a job. You got one available?”
“You’ll have to take that up with my pa. He’ll be back in a bit.” Andrew cocks his head back and looks the man over carefully.
Rodger likewise comes up and stands next to his brother, eyeing the man’s slick six-shooter.
Suddenly, the man smiles a little sheepishly. Dismounting, he holds out his hand, saying, “I’m forgettin’ my manners. Name’s Black…David Black.”
Andrew takes the proffered hand cordially, “Andrew Burke. This is my brother, Rodger.”
Black nods, “Howdy-do, son?”
Rodger shakes hands with him smiling back at the man.
Andrew invites, “Since Pa isn’t at home at the moment, why don’t you just tie your horse up and tell us about yourself?”
David Black looks slightly uncomfortable, and runs his hand through his hair.
That evening, the Burkes are sitting around the fireplace in various attitudes. Aaron is visiting.
Andrew is speaking, “I tell you, Pa, I don’t trust him.”
George replies, “Well, we don’t have any proof that he’s an outlaw like you imagine, so I’m not going to fire him. He seems like a capable and willing worker and being short a man, we really could use the help. Unless you can prove otherwise to me, he stays.”
Aaron stretches out his legs, “Regardless, I’ll flip through the wanted papers in the morning and see if he’s on any of them. His story is rather suspicious.”
Rodger agrees, “He seemed to be to be making it up as he went along…”
Exhasperated, Pa barks, “That’s enough! David Black stays unless proven guilty. Now, take yourselves to bed!”
The boys start drifting toward their bedroom. Soon only Aaron and George are left.
Aaron urges, “Pa…you don’t know the man. Please, keep an eye on him…he’s probably harmless, but….”
George laughs, “Alright! I’ll keep an eye on the man! Aaron, don’t you think you ought to be headed home? Your little woman’s going to wonder what’s keeping you so late.”
Aaron grins at the mention of his beloved Sophia and gets to his feet. He walks to the door and takes his hat off a peg and opens the door. He turns at the entrance.
The next day, David Black began work on the Burke Ranch. He rode herd with Bartholomew that first afternoon. The two of them sit on a hill looking down into a low valley. Bartholomew is talking expansively about the property, cattle, and the neighbors, when Black's hand slowly creeps toward his gun. Bartholomew's back is turned away. He turns, just as Black whips out his revolver and fires.
Instinctively, Bart reaches for his shotgun. He relaxes, and a smile spreads across his face, as he looks from the smoking pistol in David Black's hand to the rattlesnake in it's death throes.
"That's some fine, shootin'!"
The man's face also relaxes into a slight smile, "Nothin' spectacular, kid..."
Bartholomew shakes his head, then changes the subject, "You were fixing to ask me something a minute ago when I interrupted you with the story of Phinny and Caleb's tree climbing escapades."
Once again, David Black's demeanor becomes wary. He adjusts his hat, then clears his throat.
"Yep. I was goin' to ask if you'd ever heard of a feller named Benson Hadley?"
Bartholomew's eyebrows skyrocket up his wide forehead.
"Have I? Why, man...some of us have nearly been killed by him and his gang!"
There the conversation ceases as the man and boy head down to discover the reason that a calf was bawling so distressingly.
"Why on earth would he want to know about Benson Hadley?"
George was not sure how to take the news that his new hand was inquiring about his worst enemy. He could care less at the moment about the glowing praise of the man's speed with a revolver than this strange news. He couldn't help thinking about his two eldest son's distrust of the man.
The next few days went by without further incident to spark any interest or suspicion around the new ranch hand. His constant attitude of watchfulness was not undully hightened in anyway, nor did he pry any further into the whereabouts of Hadley. He seemed to enjoy most the company of Bartholomew, who was often loquacious and practically heedless of his companion's silence. Little did he realize how much David Black gleaned from his stories of Burke life.
One evening, Phineas hid in the hayloft and peered down into the horses stalls while Black rubbed his horse down and did something he did every evening--scribble in a black book--which he always seemed to want to keep hidden.
"Found out from Bart today that Hadley had been holed up someplace on this land. Left, don't know where."
Phineas laid very quiet, his face puckered up in concentration, until Black left the barn. Then he quickly slipped down and sneaked out another door.
He said nothing about it because the young rascal wanted to do some digging on his own. He considered it something of a wild adventure.
The next afternoon while the men and older boys were about their duties, and while he should have been studying the arithmatic problems his father had set out for him to do, he snuck out to the lean-to on the barn that served as a bunk house.
Julian watches him leave the house with a look of incredulity, "Phinny! You'll get in trouble!"
Phineas continues right on walking. Julian starts to follow, but deciding that he didn't want to catch it, he returns to his seat and bites the end of his pencil pensively.
Out in the lean-to, Phineas ignores Smitty's bunk and heads straight to Black's. He frowns, then determinedly starts tearing into a neat pair of saddle bags which were stashed under the pillow.
Clean socks, a new shirt, and fancy pocket watch came out of the one side. Out of the other side, Phineas pulls the ratty little black book, a roll of papers--which turned out to be wanted posters, and finally, when he turns them upside down, a hard metal object falls out. Picking it up, Phineas' eyes grow wide. It was a metal star with the words "US Marshal" engraved on it.
David Black stands before the Burke clan, including Aaron, half-wary, half-amused, and a little defiant. He had been rather surprised to find his things stuffed back into his saddlebags in little to no order. Phineas stands off to one side, looking rather sheepish.
"It's true," Black remarks. "I am a US Marshal. I've been hunting Hadley for three years now and he always stays a step ahead of me. I thought I might try some undercover work for a while to see where it got me."
George himself looks rather ashamed, "I sure am sorry that we suspected you--of what I'm still not sure myself..."
Black laughs, "Well, I won't hold it against you! However, I will be movin' along now since I have determined what I came here for. Hadley isn't in the immediate area and I think I have a lead on him."
"I hope so!" Aaron interjects. "That man has been nothing but a pain in the law's side since he went rouge."
As Black mounts his steed, Bartholomew comes up, hand extended, "Mr. Black, anytime you're through this way, you stop and see us, you hear?"
The Marshal grabs the broad hand and squeezes it, "Sure thing, Bart. Sure thing...